A few clever purchases can make all the difference between a day spent in pain and being comfortable and healthy on site.
When you hear the phrase 'kitting yourself out at work' you probably think about the health and safety PPE we all have to wear every day.
And to me all that gear can seem a bit overkill at times.
But anyone who has had a falling roof tile bounce off their hard hart or have dropped something really heavy on their steel toe caps will know it's a necessary evil for site work.
However while this PPE gear is great for protecting you from accidents and hazards, it doesn't do anything to protect you from the biggest cause of lost days in the construction industry.
Musculoskeletal disorders (strains and sprains to muscles and joints).
For example, according to the HSE statistics from 2014/5 there were 1.7 million working days lost in the construction sector in the UK.
Of these lost days, only 500,000 were because of workplace accidents and injuries such as slips, falls or problems from lifting and handling.
However a whopping 1.2 million days were lost due to work-related illnesses rather than injury, with 64% of these being due to musculoskeletal disorders.
And there's a good reason for this.
Long days of repetitive movements, standing, twisting, bending, lifting, kneeling, overreaching and whole body vibrations from power tools and vehicles can all play havoc with your body.
And leave you in a lot of pain.
So how can you make sure this doesn't happen to you?
It's all about working smartly and using things that help you to stay healthy.
Some Things You Can Do To Stay Healthy On Site
While lower back pain, knee pain, and other musculoskeletal disorders are extremely common among construction workers, they don't have to be inevitable for you.
Because by doing things the right way and taking care of your body you can minimise the damage from heavy construction work.
- Stretching your body out regularly during the day.
- Keeping your core muscles strong so you can withstand the powerful movements required at work.
- Practicing safe lifting techniques to avoid back strains and injuries.
- Making sure you are using good technique and maintaining a good posture when shoveling.
- Taking regular breaks and not overdoing things.
And on top of these things, there are many great products on the market that will help to make your working environment a safer and healthier place.
That can help your body to support and protect your back and joints as you work.
And make painful work days a thing of the past.
Read on and I'll show you how you can make this a reality for you too.
Wear A Back Support Belt
Lower back pain is the most common complaint among construction workers.
However strengthening your core muscles is one great way to guard against this, as it provide extra support and stability for your lower back as you work.
This is especially important if you have to lift heavy objects during the day.
And a great way to increase this support and stability further is to wear a back support belt.
These belts work alongside your core muscles to keep your back strong and healthy throughout the day.
By compressing your abdomen they take the strain away from your lower back.
And wearing a belt will also encourage you to maintain a good posture as you work.
Which can also carry the added benefit of training your body to improve your posture even when you're not wearing it.
All of which will lower the strain and pressure on your lower back and reduce any pain you feel.
So for this added support, comfort and better posture they are definitely worth giving a try.
And a good belt for those involved in heavy work on site is the Aidbrace Back Brace Support Belt.
- An industrial strength belt that is designed to provide strong support for heavy tasks on site.
- Durable and sturdy build means it can withstand heavy use.
- Great for heavy lifting.
- Breathable mesh design allows you to stay cool and comfortable as you wear it.
However while back support belts are great, a word of caution.
It's important to remember that they are only effective in assisting your core muscles.
So don't fall into the trap of becoming overconfident and thinking your back will become invincible by wearing one.
And don't use your belt as an excuse for not keeping your core and abdominal muscles strong either!
Get Yourself A Pair Of Work Boots With Good Arch Support
You may not realise how much of an effect your footwear can have on your pain levels during the day.
But wearing the wrong type of footwear can have dire consequences for your back, knees, feet and ankles.
There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, your feet act as shock absorbers for your whole body.
So when you wear boots with inadequate support your body has to absorb all these shocks, which jolts and jars your back and joints.
And secondly, wearing a pair of boots that don't fit you well can cause all sorts of problems.
It can affect how you walk and cause your body to compensate, creating painful muscle imbalances that increase the strain on your back.
And when you consider the pounding your feet take on site, walking on concrete floors and climbing up and down ladders, you can see the problem.
So if you want to keep pain at bay, it's vitally important that you wear the right work boots.
Ones that fit well and have great arch support.
And a good all rounder for most tasks on site are the Timberland Pro Men's Endurance 6" PR Work Boots.
- These boots are designed for endurance and are great for workers who spend long hours on their feet.
- The anti-fatigue technology absorbs shocks from hard surfaces like concrete. This takes pressure off your feet, joints and back as well as reducing muscle cramps.
- Comes with a contoured insole that gives extra support to the pressure points in your heel and the balls of your feet.
- The soles on these boots can take a hammering if you regularly do heavy site work, so they may need replacing every so often.
There are plenty of other decent work boots on the market, and the pair which will be best for you will depend on the daily demands of your job.
If you want to find out more check out my article on the best work boots for different tasks.
Protect Your Knees!
I'm sure as a young buck on site you would've come across many experienced tradesmen eager to pass on their wealth of knowledge to the next generation.
And while your eyes may tend to glaze over after one too many stories about 'the good old days', you can learn a lot from these guys.
I certainly have.
For instance, one of the main pieces of advice I remember hearing when I first started working was to protect my knees.
Now on site this advice is normally given by the carpet fitter/plumber/carpenter in their 50s whose knees are shot to pieces.
But do we listen to their warning?
Of course not!
We're young, fit and healthy.
And why worry about your knees when they don't hurt at all? Those old boys have shot knees but that'll never happen to you right?
Well if you think that way then it's time to change your way of thinking.
Because getting rid of pain at work doesn't just mean treating pain you already have, it also includes measures to prevent pain from occurring in the first place.
And there is evidence that kneeling down on hard surfaces can be catastrophic for our knees over time, leading to such delights as:
- Fluid on the knee.
- Wounds and infections.
However simply by using a pair of protective kneepads at work you can avoid these pitfalls as they:
- Absorb the shocks from kneeling on hard surfaces.
- Provide comfort and protection to your knees by distributing the weight and pressure over a wider area.
- Protect against wounds and infection resulting from accidentally kneeling on sharp objects.
- Prevent general wear and tear in the knees.
So even if you have no pain in your knees yet, you really need to be wearing knee pads while you work to avoid this ticking timebomb.
And a great pair that I can recommend are these Redback kneepads.
- Award winning and CE certified professional standard knee pads.
- These knee pads are tough and durable, designed to support people up to 40st (250kgs)!
- The cushioning make kneeling on even the hardest surface feel like you are kneeling on soft gel.
- Washable, so you can keep them fresh.
- The velcro straps may chafe if you wear the strapped knee pads with shorts rather than work trousers.
After 15 years as a painter and decorator I finally decided to buy myself a pair of these knee pads earlier this year.
And they have been great for slipping on for an hour when painting skirting boards on hard wooden floors.
I'm sure my 60 year-old self will thank me for it in the long run!
And Don't Forget Your Wrists
When you work in the construction industry your wrists can come under severe strain and pressure.
This is because we use our hands all day at work.
Whether that is by laying bricks, using hand tools, lifting or shoveling, your wrists rarely get a break.
And the combination of using forceful and repetitive movements as you work, alongside s constant bending of the wrist backward and forwards into awkward positions, means you are at high risk of repetitive strain injuries.
Which can lead to painful inflammation and tendonitis of the wrist.
On top of that, any prolonged use of vibrating tools can put construction workers at risk of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Leaving you with numb, tingling hands, a loss of strength in your grip, and weakness and pain when bending your wrists.
All terrible news for those of us that use our hands to make a living!
So what can you do to protect your wrists at work?
- Strengthen your wrist muscles and tendons with a few regular exercises you can do at home or at the gym.
- Use ergonomic hand tools that minimise the force and impact on your hands.
- Take regular breaks to give your wrists some respite.
- Mix jobs up to avoid too many repetitive movements.
- Wear vibration reducing gloves when using vibrating power tools.
And a good pair of gloves for this purpose are the Dewalt Vibration Reducing Gloves.
- High density memory foam padding reduces stressful vibrations from power tools such as sanders, grinders and routers.
- The leather on the palm provides an excellent grip.
- Tough and durable gloves.
- These gloves will help you but they won't make you invincible. So remember not to overdo it!
Conditions like tendonitis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can make it too painful to continue working.
So make efforts to start looking after your wrists now to protect your livelihood.
Look After Your Hands As They Look After You
Now that we've looked at how to protect your wrists, it's time to focus on your hands.
Because your hands are the most important tools you'll ever own.
So keeping them healthy and functioning well is absolutely vital if you want to keep earning a living in the construction industry.
However according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hand injuries are second only to back injuries as the most common on site.
Which maybe isn't surprising when you consider the hazards they are exposed to on a daily basis such as:
- Risk of crushing and fractures from handling heavy objects.
- Cuts and infections from working with sharp objects.
- Burns from working with hot tools and surfaces.
- Operating heavy machinery such as circular saws.
- Using vibrating machinery such as drills and jack hammers.
- Handling hazardous chemicals and substances, which can lead to skin complaints such as rashes and dermatitis.
So how can you guard against these problems and avoid becoming another statistic?
Well firstly it's down to you to work sensibly!
You need to stay alert to the potential dangers of each task you carry out and concentrate on carrying them out safely and correctly.
But on top of that there are other ways to protect your hands as you work.
One is to apply a barrier cream to your hands before starting work.
This creates a physical barrier between your skin and the substances it comes into contact with during the working day.
Which helps protect you from developing contact dermatitis and other skin irritations.
Another good idea is to use a protective pair of gloves for the task you are undertaking.
Now there are many different kind of gloves on the market and each is designed to protect against different things.
So as an guide I've given you a few ideas below of gloves for particular jobs.
Just be aware that when using different kinds of chemicals you may require different kinds of gloves, so check that you are using ones suitable for the task at hand.
Look after your hands so they can continue to look after you for years to come.
Upgrade Your Desk Chair
If your job involves having to spend a few hours sitting at a desk each day, you may think you are less at risk of pain than someone involved in heavy manual labour all day.
Unfortunately this is definitely NOT the case.
In fact regular prolonged periods of sitting can be even worse for your body than hard work!
Especially if you are using a crappy desk chair.
There are two main reasons that sitting down for a few hours at a time is damaging to your body:
- When you are sat down your vertebrae become compressed. This starves your spinal discs of the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay healthy.
- Your muscles become inactive when sitting for too long in the same position, leading to a weakening of the ones that support your spine.
And on top of that, sitting in a cheap and unsuitable desk chair can lead to the following:
- It can force you to adopt an awkward posture which puts extra pressure on your lower spine.
- A lack of lumbar support can mean you sit with your spine an unhealthy 'C' shape rather than a natural 'S' shape.
- Not being able to adjust the height of the arms on the chair can lead to neck, shoulder and upper back pain.
So to avoid these problems, you really need to think about upgrading your office chair to an ergonomic chair with good lumbar support.
These chairs are fully adjustable so you can tweak them until your chair fits your body like a glove.
And as a result this will:
- Provide great lumbar support that will take pressure off your spine.
- Allow you to sit with a healthy posture.
- Keep your core and abdominal muscles active, preventing any weakening and increasing spinal support.
Great news I'm sure you'll agree.
Now for the bad news.
These chairs can be pretty expensive.
However if you want a more affordable option, the Space Seating Airgrid Chair is a good value choice.
- Has built in lumbar support to keep your lower back happy.
- You can adjust the height and arms, meaning you can get it just right for you and take the pressure and strain off your body.
- The tilt mechanism allows your core and abdominal muscles to remain active as you sit.
- The curved design encourages you to sit with a natural 'S' shape posture.
- Doesn't have as many features as the higher end chairs.
- The lumbar support can't be adjusted.
If you want to read my full article on the best ergonomic desk chairs for back pain, you can find it by clicking here.
Get Yourself A Height Adjustable Standing Desk
So if sitting at your desk is so dangerous, getting a standing desk instead must be a good idea right?
Well to an extent yes.
But the bad news is that prolonged periods of standing can also cause you pain!
- Standing in the same position for too long puts extra pressure and strain on your muscles and joints.
- It can also cause muscle fatigue in your lower limbs.
- Regular prolonged standing can be a cause of long-term lower back pain.
It just feels like you can't win sometimes eh?
However the trick here is to mix it up a bit.
And getting a height adjustable standing desk to use alongside your regular sitting desk is a big help.
Because being able to alternate between standing and sitting during the day can go a long way to keeping you healthy and pain-free.
In fact one study from 2011 found that introducing a height adjustable standing desk for office workers reduced their back and neck pain by 54% in just 4 weeks.
Pretty impressive stats.
And aside from lower pain levels, alternating between sitting and standing at your desk could also:
- Lower your risk of heart disease and developing diabetes.
- Help you burn more calories during the day.
- Improve your mood and energy levels.
- Boost your productivity.
All great reasons for making the switch!
If you're interested in giving this a go, you won't find a better option than the Varidesk Height Adjustable Standing Desk.
- Has a two-tier design meaning you can have the keyboard and monitor at different heights to suit you.
- Has 11 different height settings meaning you can place it at the perfect height for you.
- Stays sturdy and stable even at it's highest height setting.
- Has a spring loaded mechanism that makes raising and lowering it really easy.
- It can seem to be quite a big investment, although I'd argue the benefits are worth the outlay. But if you want a less expensive option, check out the Fancierstudio Standing Desk.
You should be aiming to split your time 50/50 between sitting and standing at your desk to gain the maximum benefits.
To learn more about how to use a standing desk correctly to keep pain at bay, check out this excellent article form Healthline.
Use A Lumbar Support Cushion In Your Van Or Truck
Ok so I've already explained how bad prolonged periods of sitting are for you.
And for the professional drivers among you I apologise in advance for being the bearer of yet more bad news.
But prolonged sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle is even worse!
Because not only do you get the compressed vertabrae, weakened muscles and awkward posture problems from regular sitting.
You are also exposed to whole body vibrations from the vehicle as you drive.
And that combo is a nightmare!
Because your body absorbs these vibrations as you drive, adding even more strain on your already compressed spinal discs.
In fact, people regularly exposed to whole body vibrations have been found to be 4 times more likely to develop lower back pain (64).
So how can using a lumbar support cushion change that?
Well the seats of most vehicles (especially work vehicles) don't come with the right amount of lumbar support.
This means that your lower back flattens against the seat as you drive, forcing you into an unhealthy 'C' shaped posture.
However by placing a lumbar support cushion between the seat and your lower back you can bridge this gap.
And this encourages your body to maintain a healthier 'S' curve posture instead as you drive.
Relieving the pressure and strain on your lower back, and allowing your back muscles to rest and relax.
Meaning less back pain from driving!
And a great lumbar support cushion for your van or truck is the Comfilife Lumbar Support Cushion.
- Very comfortable to use being made from memory foam while also providing excellent lumbar support.
- Adjustable strap holds it in the perfect position for you as you drive.
- Made with a breathable mesh material so your lower back doesn't get too hot.
- May be too big for smaller car seats.
Lumbar support cushions are FDA approved and are commonly recommended for people with lower back pain by physicians and chiropractors.
And they can be a cheap and affordable way of getting decent lumbar support from old chairs.
So have a try and see what you think.
I hope after reading through this article you have gained a few ideas about how you can improve your working experience.
Working in the construction industry can be extremely hazardous for our bodies, so you need to learn how to work smart.
And the suggestions I've put forward here will help you to get rid of pain at work.
Let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions that can help people stay pain-free on site.
And here's to a happier and healthier work day for us all.
Additional resources used in researching this article: